Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The classic and the not-so classic

The classic and the not-so classic.
Most eyes will be on Frankfurt come Wednesday, given the choice, and the derby or ´classico´ between those old neighbours and adversaries: Brazil's trademark gold and green against Argentina's Albiceleste.
If that is rightly regarded as what our American cousins would call the 'marquee match-up' of world football, then the alternative on offer in Leipzig, where Germany take on Mexico in the anachronistic pursuit of third place, wmust be the epitome of the word 'sideshow'.
Whereas there are countless previous thrilling encounters to relate - Brazil having pipped Argentina to the 2004 Copa America only to lose face and local bragging rights as a 3-1 June defeat saw Jose Pekerman's side qualify first for Deutschland 2006 - how can anyone talk up that dire France 98 meeting between the other two with a straight face?
The Germans that day won a game between two sides desperate not to lose... still failing to remember? Ok, besides confessing a poor purist's excuse to evoke memories of scorer and proto-Forlan Luis Hernandez, goals from who else but Messrs Oliver Bierhoff and Jurgen Klinsmann won the game 2-1 on a scorching Montpellier afternoon.
Bierhoff is now team manager, yes, team manager of Germany, while Klinsmann -undeniably the figurehead as well as the boss - goes by the title of coach.
Their current nominal counterpart, Ricardo Antonio Lavolpe, was not exactly busy at the time. Indeed he scraped back ino coaching with club side Atlas just after France 1998 to get his career back on track.
He wouldn't have been playing anyway, being an Argentinian, and a World Cup winner himself in 1978 at that. But he has certainly announced himself during this tournament and has delivered a pacy young side unlucky not to advance at his native country's expense on Sunday night.
Apart from having sent home two players now under FIFA investigation, Lavolpe has made news with the spaghetti western tone of his utterances before the media, for many of whom he can barely disguise his contempt.
His post-match grumbles about "money talking" here in Hannover were, then, par for the course as he took defeat about as badly as was to be expected.
"If you think the players decided who took our penalties out there you are wrong," he glared, and with that he was off, disinclined to explain any further, you've just got to love him, and the media needs more like him and less of the faceless yes-men.
In part thanks to Lavolpe the news agenda out here has, unpredictably, focused not so much on the so-called silly season of multi-million euro transfer swoops, but instead on disciplinary loopholes, pitchside security and our hosts' attempts to put the ignominy of their domestic refereeing scandal behind them.
The best way to do that? Of course, a home win would have helped... stadia packed to their state-of-the-art rafters and even less bitching room for those who still wish that casting venue vote had actually been cast and that June 2006 was to herald Africa's bow on the world football hosting stage.
That horse has long since bolted, however, and we are left with FIFA's gravy train of a dry run for the real thing. Cynic or not, the football has been uniformly excellent, and that is still - albeit to a diminishing degree - what it is all about.


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